For everyone that has wanted to see a “final four” between Miami Northwestern, Miami Central, Miami Carol City and Miami Norland, it looks like you’re a week away from seeing it happen.
But keeping the focus on this week, there are some great games that were facilitated by a playoff system that succeeded in getting rid of the losing-record playoff teams and created some matchups they normally wouldn’t have seen this early in the playoffs.
It starts Thursday when two of Dade’s most improved teams with matching 8-1 records - Miami High and Palmetto - clash at Tropical Park.
That game, along with South Dade’s clash with North Miami at Traz, kick off what should be a very evenly-matched battle to see who represents the southern half of Class 8A.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
TOP 20 RANKINGS
1. American Heritage (8-0) vs. Merritt Island (6-3), 7:30, Friday, Heritage.
Andre C. Fernandez’s pick: Heritage 33, Merritt Island 7. The winning streak hits 23 in a row for the Patriots before a familiar challenger (likely Bishop Moore) visits Plantation next week.
2. Northwestern (7-2) vs. Matanzas (6-4), 7:30, Friday, Traz.
Andre’s pick: Northwestern 41, Matanzas 7. The Bulls set up a showdown with Central in the second round with ease.
3. Central (8-2) at Palm Bay Heritage (7-3), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Central 37, Heritage 7. Rockets know this stop. It’s one they’ve made before on the road to a state championship.
4. Cardinal Gibbons (8-1) at Orlando Jones (9-1), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Cardinal Gibbons 37, Jones 34. This should be one of the best first-round games statewide.
5. Miramar (8-1) vs. Lake Worth Park Vista (8-2), 7:30, Friday, Miramar.
Andre’s pick: Miramar 27, Park Vista 6. Patriots should have much of a letdown after huge win over St. Thomas.
6. St. Thomas Aquinas (7-2) vs. South Miami (6-3), 7:30, Friday, Aquinas.
Andre’s pick: Aquinas 42, South Miami 7. Good bounce back year for the Cobras, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011, but Aquinas cruises.
7. Deerfield Beach (8-2) vs. 19. Western (8-2), 7:30, Friday, Deerfield Beach.
Andre’s pick: Deerfield Beach 21, Western 10. The Bucks’ defense has to slow down one of Broward’s top offenses, but should be up to the challenge.
8. Chaminade (7-2) vs. Delray American Heritage (5-4), 3, Friday, Chaminade.
Andre’s pick: Chaminade 38, American Heritage 21. Run Shivers, run. It’s a simple formula for the Lions, who should move closer to state.
9. Carol City (6-3) at Dillard (6-4), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Carol City 35, Dillard 7. Chiefs’ repeat bid begins again with a road win at Dillard.
10. Norland (6-3) at Daytona Beach Mainland (6-4), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Norland 30, Mainland 13. The Vikings scheduled those early road games to be ready for this challenge.
11. Columbus (8-1) vs. Homestead (6-3), 5, Friday, Columbus.
Andre’s pick: Columbus 28, Homestead 8. The Explorers have home field throughout their potential path to state. They clear the first hurdle.
12. Miami High (8-1) vs. 13. Palmetto (8-1), 7, Thursday, Tropical.
Andre’s pick: Palmetto 20, Miami High 19. Here’s where we find out which is the better turnaround story among two of South Florida’s most improved teams.
14. South Dade (8-1) vs. North Miami (6-3), 7, Thursday, Traz.
Andre’s pick: South Dade 20, North Miami 6. Bucs have finished the season strong after their lone setback to Palmetto.
15. Southridge (5-3) at Belen Jesuit (6-3), 1, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Southridge 12, Belen 7. Ridge needs its defense to dominate to avoid an upset in this one.
16. Plantation (9-1) at Delray Beach Atlantic (9-1), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Plantation 15, Atlantic 14. Colonels have historically been a good first-round team under coach Steve Davis, but this one won’t be easy.
17. University School (7-1) vs. Glades Central (6-3), 7:30, Fri., University.
Andre’s pick: University 17, Glades Central 14. It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season but the Sharks do and pick up first playoff win in four years.
18. Monsignor Pace (7-1) vs. Key West (7-1), 7:30, Friday, Pace.
Andre’s pick: Monsignor Pace 28, Key West 21. The Spartans’ old-school physical play on both sides of the ball carries them to their first playoff win since 2010.
20. Champagnat (5-2) vs. Naples St. John Neumann (9-0), 7, Thursday, Milander.
Andre’s pick: Champagnat 24, St. John Neumann 6. The march back to Orlando begins for the Lions.
MORE PLAYOFF GAMES
Nova (8-1) at Doral (8-2), 7, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Doral 27, Nova 14. Firebirds take another big step in program’s growth with their first playoff win.
Mater Academy (6-4) at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (8-2), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Dwyer 28, Mater 9. Tough to see the Lions overcoming this road obstacle.
Forest Hill (9-1) vs. West Broward (7-2) at Flanagan, 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: West Broward 27, Forest Hill 20. Bobcats carry over momentum from winning first district title by winning their first playoff game.
Everglades Prep (5-4) at Palm Beach Benjamin (7-2), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Benjamin 28, Everglades Prep 14. The Panthers’ playoff debut likely doesn’t result in a win, but gives them something to build upon.
Wednesday – Broward: McArthur at Everglades, 7; Everglades 10-7; Hollywood Hills vs. Monarch (Coconut Creek), 7; Monarch 30-14.
Thursday – Broward: Coral Glades at Pompano Beach, 7; Coral Glades 17-7; Coral Springs vs. Coral Springs Charter (Coral Glades), 7; Coral Springs 35-14; Cardinal Newman at Archbishop McCarthy, 7; McCarthy 28-24.
Dade - Last week: 22-1; Season: 194-38; Broward – Last week: 18-5; Season: 176-40.